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Fashion houses look to blogs for business

Johanna Cox, a 27-year-old analyst for a defense contractor in Washington D.C., spends her free time writing in her blog, called “A serious job is no excuse.” She gives fashion advice to professional women who work in the nation’s capital and “who think their serious jobs are a valid excuse for dressing the ill-fitted, office-inappropriate, comfort-first way females in this city tend to dress,” as she states on her site.

To help these style-challenged women, Cox suggests the trendiest skirts, tops, dresses, handbags and shoes. She includes the designer, the retailer and, of course, the link to the company’s Web site, where users can buy the item in a matter of minutes. For the busy fashionista, the site is like having an electronic personal stylist. But increasingly for retailers, it’s the hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Fashion companies, from the haute couture makers to the indie designers, are looking more and more to blogs as a marketing tool that allows them to establish a new relationship with their customers and to advertise their products. But the cozy relationship among some of these blogs and retailers raises concerns about their independence.

Industry experts say that fashion houses are drawn to blogs for several reasons. At a time when the choices for consumers multiply by the hour, finicky shoppers feel more inclined to buy from someone they trust, and that is just the kind of effect blogs have on their regular visitors. Also, by advertising or promoting merchandising through a blog, companies can sell a glamorous image like the ones on the glossy pages of top magazines, at a much lower cost.

“Blogs led to an increase in sales in companies, especially in fashion,” said Justin Stefano, one of the founders and the executive director of Refinery29, a digital fashion publication. One reason is that bloggers find out about fashion opportunities faster than they used to, Stefano said.

Companies don’t just want customers looking at these blogs. They want them to speak out about how they feel about a particular skirt, top or pair of stilettos. The blog makes possible a spontaneous, candid reaction that can be as valuable as pricey market research.

“Fashion blogs are a huge new marketing trend and have created a new way in which companies can ‘read’ the public reaction to their latest collection, campaign, etc.,” says Sherri L. Koetting, co-founder and principal of MSLK Graphic Design.

Blogger Daniel Saynt, president of Fashion Indie Media, a group that promotes young designers and runs a full-time blog, agrees. “I write a post about a designer’s collection and immediately you see posts from people that say I agree with you or not.”

Blogs give advice on what to wear, where to shop and what’s chic this season. They alert readers to sales and review all kinds of clothes and accessories.

The bloggers use their imagination to give fashion tips. For example, fabsugar.com gives advice on how to look cute on moving day. Hint: wear yellow Converse All Star sneakers.

Joanna Goddard, a blogger and magazine writer, underscores the appeal of bloggers who write about their lives and create a relationship with readers who grow to trust their opinions. “If you say that you like something, people respond in a positive way, there’s sort of a personal trustiness, more than in other types of media,” she points out.

However, there are some concerns about the trustworthiness of the bloggers. If what defines them is their independence and honesty, the closer relationship bloggers develop with the retailers and the expensive gifts some of them receive raises questions about their credibility over time.

For example, Elisabeth Fourmont, the woman behind “La Coquette,” was one of the bloggers invited to the opening of the new Gucci store in New York, where she was flown in from Paris, the city in which she lives.

After coming back home, she posted on her blog about her trip and told readers that she’d been given an $800 Gucci handbag free. “I’m thinking about putting it on top of my toilet, like people do with their Oscars, to play down the majesty,” she wrote.

Fourmont did not respond to e-mailed questions about the posting by press time, but Stefano thinks that there is no danger for the bloggers to lose credibility. “They are a very savvy bunch,” he said. “They tend to be very independently minded. They might go to those parties and take those handbags, but in the end what keeps their content relevant is that independence.”

Stefano said that the blogger community keeps the members honest and that if readers feel that a certain blogger’s content is compromised, the blogger loses traffic.

Susie Bubble, a blogger and freelance journalist who runs the blog StyleBubble, says she is contacted on a daily basis by fashion companies, including designers who she says ask her to review items because they value her opinion. “The general rule is I don't feature anyone who I don't genuinely like and feel is appropriate for Style Bubble,’’ she wrote in an e-mail. “I don't really accept free samples either with obligations to write about things.’’

Fashion bloggers are a tight community. When Gucci opened its new store in New York, it decided to invite fashion bloggers. Daniel Saynt complained in his blog that the fashion house didn’t invite any New York bloggers.

“After that post, people from Gucci invited me to a $10,000 party with Madonna, Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez,” said Saynt. “The post was picked up by others bloggers and Gucci took notice.”

Fashion companies and blogs are working together in several ways. In some cases, designers or retailers contact blogs directly to help them market their products.

On Valentines Day, for example, Glam Chic, a blog associated with Glam.com, tried to console readers who didn’t have a significant other to celebrate with by linking to an offer for “retail therapy.” The promotion was offered by Yoox, a multibrand virtual boutique, and it suggested exchanging a Valentine for a Valentino in an online sample sale of the brand’s clothes.

Companies still advertise in blogs directly. Some groups are now connecting the bloggers with the retailers that want to advertise in them.

One of these is Glam Media, a publisher network of more than 400 lifestyle sites and blogs, that caters to a national and international female audience. The group distributes advertising among the blogs that are part of the network, explains Lane Buschel, of Morris + King Company, which handles the Public Relations for Glam Media in New York.

Bloggers don’t always look to the high-powered fashion houses for material for their blogs. In The Coveted, the blogger, who lives in San Francisco, announced that she’s moving to Europe and is selling her wardrobe. She posted pictures of herself wearing the clothes. Clicking on the pictures gives users a link to e-Bay, where a tweed coat or a dress is going for a decidedly unfashionable, but attention-grabbing $9.99.

E-mail: mc2931@columbia.edu